Book Review: Almost Green by James Glave

Monday, August 10th, 2015 at 8:31 am

I found it amongst the library’s construction-related books, so I must have known, when I picked it up, that James Glave’s Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet was about building. But by the time I got around to reading it, I had forgotten.

By that time, I thought maybe it was a generic “how I learned to be green” book. Which I don’t mind – it’s always fun to see what other people do to be green (the more potentially ridiculous, the better – solar cookers, composting toilets, peeing on your garden…)

The prologue, in which the author waxes eloquent about how he hates that he drives an SUV (but still does it anyway), had a paragraph explaining what the book was actually going to be about – so I did get some warning. I also learned, by the end of the prologue, that I dislike the author.

Why?

Because in the prologue, the author reveals that

  • He cusses. I consider cussing to be a sign of lack of intelligence – and that cussing in writing, where you have time and opportunity to choose your words carefully, is a sign of lack of writing ability.
  • He is apocalyptic. He believes in anthropogenic global warming (I am skeptical about the “anthropogenic” part) – but I expected that. What I have a hard time tolerating (whether by environmentalists or by Christians) is apocalytic thinking: “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Glave writes: “You probably already know that global warming presents the single greatest threat to humanity in all of history and the most profound challenge we face as a civilization.” Let’s just say I don’t know that and I can think of much greater threats and much more profound challenges.
  • He’s an eco-consumer. He states he was predisposed against “Eco Chic” (buying cool new “green” things) – but then clearly buys into, well, buying things. My own brand of environmentalism is all about avoiding waste – and Glave already reveals that he’s drunk the consumer-mentality Koolaid.

The body of the book got a little more interesting (to me) because the author was talking about his building process, about building materials, about home positioning and insulation and window e-values. And since Daniel and I are in the process of building our own home, that sort of thing is interesting to me.

But even as the body of the book became more interesting, my dislike for Glave remained.

Why?

  • He makes excuses. He says that global warming presents “the single greatest threat to humanity in all of history”, but then he makes all sorts of excuses for why he can’t possibly do the things that he knows would be best for avoiding that threat (for instance, live in a smaller space.) Now, I know there are plenty of things I could do to be more green – and I’ve made choices that aren’t the greenest. But I don’t think the world is ending because of my choices. I’m not weighing “keeping my kids occupied with lots of plastic and electronics in a too-large house” versus “the end of humanity” and choosing keeping my kids occupied with lots of plastic and electronics in a too-large house.
  • He makes poor trade-offs. Okay, so Glave is committed to making his studio very eco-friendly – and that’s great. He knows that trade-offs will have to be made. Unfortunately, the trade-offs he makes are not pulling his weight with family finances (he was supposed to bring in a certain amount of business with his writing, but slacked on that as he became consumed with his building project) and spending money that he and his wife had budgeted for other things (telling his wife after the decision had already been made). In my opinion, a green studio isn’t worth that price. (But…but…we discover at the end that he has found himself! And surely, self-discovery is worth failing to provide for your family, going back on your word, and being silently deceptive with your wife. Surely!)
  • He’s a chronological snob. He claims that heritage-style homes (made with old-timey features) are the ruination of the earth, stating that “Victorians had different priorities” and implying that historical building is by nature non-green. But he obviously never bothered to study the history of architecture or why homes have been built the way they were in the past. Yes, olden-days homes didn’t have styrofoam insulation or double-pane argon-filled glass – but they were built with local (often sustainable) materials, were designed to maximize heat retention in the winter and coolness in the summer, and were generally designed on a much smaller scale than we build today. (Yes, we see the big houses that remain – but even those were often not as big as we think, especially once we calculate how many people were living in each of those big houses.)
  • He calls those of us who prefer to minimize waste (and avoid the consumer race) “sanctimonious” – as in, “the more sanctimonious greens love to crow about the energy and emissions that go into manufacturing a new vehicle.” And after he’s spent an entire book looking down on his neighbors, his father-in-law (who gave his family the SUV mentioned in the prologue), and pretty much everyone as being not as green as he is – that feels like a slap in the face.

No. I don’t recommend this book. I think the author is a jerk.


Rating: 1 star
Category: Green building Memoir
Synopsis: The author describes the process of building a “green” studio in his yard.
Recommendation: I don’t recommend this. The author is a jerk.

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Reader Comments (1):

  1. I found this review highly entertaining. :D

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